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UNESCO Holds Summit on Sacred Asian Mountains

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/09/09; September 9, 2001.]

By Ryan Nakashima

TOKYO, Sept 9 (AFP) - Across Asia mountains such as Tibet's Mount Kailash or Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka, are revered as sacred sites, yet are strewn with garbage or have been commercialized to an unholy extent.

In order to end such desecration, experts from around the Asia Pacific region are meeting this week in Japan's mountainous Kumano prefecture to draft guidelines that would allow mountains, especially in Asia, to be recognized as World Heritage sites.

"If you go to a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple in Japan, there are things you're not supposed to do there," one of the delegates, Edwin Bernbaum, a 56-year-old expert on sacred mountains and research associate from the University of California, Berkeley told AFP

"With World Heritage designation, it would give added force to management measures designed to prevent inappropriate behavior on sacred mountains."

Bernbaum suggests one good candidate is Japan's own 3,776-meter (12,461-foot) Mount Fuji.

Though revered in national history and literature, the routes to the summit are strewn with trash -- and once there, a post office, a green payphone and an expensive coffee shop all but destroy any sense of awe or otherworldliness.

"Fuji is not on the list right now, but if it were nominated, there would be the hope that it would be cleaned up," said Bernbaum, who is also author of the book, Sacred Mountains of the World.

The world's highest peak, Mount Everest, known as Jomo Langma in Tibetan, -- short for the sister goddess "Jomo Miyolangsangma" -- who provides wealth and long life to Tibetans, but is also renowned for its piles of used oxygen containers, dead bodies and abandoned trash.

One of the problems is that many governments do not regard their lofty peaks sacred and haven't nominated them for heritage listing, said meeting head Mechtild Rossler, chief of cultural landscapes for UNESCO's World Heritage Center.

"The problem is that some of the most sacred mountains of this earth are not considered by governments to be nominated for the World Heritage list at the present time," said Rossler.

"The main focus (of the meeting) is to encourage governments to take this into consideration and to recognize the universal values of some of these sites."

One group of sacred mountains, the Russian volcanoes of Kamchatka, in Russia's far east, is up for consideration for addition to the 690-site list this December, but many mountains that are considered sacred by millions of people have not even been nominated, Rossler said.

Other mountains that would make good candidates for the list include Adam's Peak (otherwise known as "Sri Pada" or "Glorious Footprint") in Sri Lanka; Paekdusan on the border of North Korea, South Korea and China and Gunung Agung in Bali, Indonesia.

Japan has already nominated Mount Koya, with its ancient forested cemetery and dozens of Buddhist temples and serves as a seminary for priests, and the Kumano mountain pilgrimage routes.

Yet other peaks are so sacred that they are nearly impossible to assess, said Rossler.

"Some of the sacred sites are considered so sacred that people are not allowed to talk about them, which of course, makes assessment a very, very difficult thing. You can imagine."

The group meeting in Japan is to submit a report of their recommendations for creating guidelines on Monday.

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